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Newmarket volunteers fill purses — and hearts — with charitable donation campaign

The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign aims to donate 1,000 purses filled with essential supplies to at risk women and youth in the Newmarket area

“Every woman should have a purse of her own.” 

It’s the phrase that ignited the Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign back in 2015, and though Susan B. Anthony wrote it nearly two centuries ago, it rings just as true today.

The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign is simple, but the impact it has on women and youth in crisis is enormous. As many people arrive at shelters with few or no personal belongings, the initiative can make all the difference to their situation and confidence.

Those who wish to gift at risk youth and women “comfort, hope, and dignity” fill a purchased or gently used purse with essential items such as shampoo and conditioner, hand sanitizer, toothbrush and toothpaste, gift cards, winter accessories, and more. To add an even more special touch, a personal note of encouragement can be included with “love and thoughtfulness”.

Filled purses and any financial contributions are then collected by volunteers and donated by the York Regional Police to women's regular and domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres, and social services that support women in that same city or town. Local recipients include Yellow Brick House, Women's Support Network, Women's Centre of York Region, Blue Door, and Rose of Sharon.

The Ontario-born initiative collects approximately 10,000 purses across participating communities each year. Launched Sept. 1 and closing Dec. 1, the 2021 Newmarket campaign hopes to collect 1,000 purses from the community over the giving season. With the COVID-19 pandemic linked to spikes in national and international domestic violence reports, it’s an immensely crucial service, now more than ever — and one that relies on the goodwill of the community.

“Volunteers are essential,” said Angel Freedman, president and founder of the Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign. “This whole thing is run by volunteers. Without them, it wouldn’t happen.”

Randi Berman is the Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign community lead for Newmarket and Aurora. A committed community volunteer who has also provided services for Big Brothers Big Sisters of York and local food drives, Newmarket resident Berman got involved with the campaign after answering a call for volunteers on social media.

As a teacher who runs the middle school community service program at Aurora’s St. Andrew’s College, Berman was long familiar with the campaign. With her children growing older, it was the perfect time to personally volunteer.

“I feel very fortunate for everything that I do have, and everything that Newmarket has given to me and my family. It’s a very supportive community,” said Berman. “Volunteering is my way of saying thank you and giving back.”

As a community lead, Berman raises awareness of the campaign, communicates with and finds drop-off locations, sorts through the bags as they come in, and supplements them with missing items as needed.

Each December, York Regional Police pick up the collected purses and distribute them to those in need.

“I want to show my children and my students that everyone can make a difference,” said Berman.

In Newmarket, filled purses can be dropped off at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex, Still in Style Resale Boutique (203 Main St. S), and Hot Wheelz Auto Service (16995 Yonge St.). Financial donations can be made by mailing a cheque to Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign, 6393 Main St., Stouffville, ON, L4A 1G4 or by e-transfer to angelfreedman@rogers.com, with tax receipts provided for donations $25 and higher.

The Fill a Purse for a Sister Campaign welcomes volunteers both in and outside Newmarket.